The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #20 -- Eggs a L'Exposition

The Palace of Fine Arts, from
_Splendors of the Panama-Pacific Exposition_.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: #20 -- Foods served at notable events in history 
What kind of food was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth? What did Benjamin Franklin eat at the Constitutional Convention? Find a food item that was served at a notable event in history, research the recipe, and recreate the dish.

The Tower of Jewels, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
This year is the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic events in California history: the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  Held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the Pan-Pacific Exposition was California's message to the world that the city of San Francisco, and the entire state, had completely recovered from the catastrophic earthquake and fire in 1906, and that California had not only recovered, but surpassed its previous accomplishments to become a cultural, economic and technological leader of the United States, on a par with New York City, Boston, Chicago, and other eastern cities.  The fair lasted an entire year, and the city was transformed by the beautiful buildings, gardens, walkways, public art, and evening light shows, not to mention the exciting and wonderful international exhibitions in each of the pavilions.  The fairgrounds became the most fashionable place to be, and the fair was absorbed into San Francisco life and California culture to an extent that, when it came time to close the fair and remove all the buildings and gardens, Californians felt like the heart of the city was being destroyed.  Residents protested the removal of the buildings – which had been built of plaster and chicken wire over wooden frames, and never intended to last more than a year – and succeeded in saving the Palace of Fine Arts and the Temple of Art, which were kept in their original locations until several years ago when they needed to be re-created in concrete due to deterioration.  The re-created buildings are still there, part of an art museum complex, and are used for countless photographs and concerts to this day.
The Tower of Jewels at Night, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

The fair was so popular that souvenirs of all kinds were created, from replica glass "jewels" to imitate those decorating the Tower of Jewels, to illustrated picture books – one of which I have! – to special "Exhibition" cookbooks.  I decided to make one of the recipes in the souvenir cookbook, The Pan-Pacific Cookbook: Savoury Tidbits from the World's Fare, which features international recipes as well as ones apparently created especially for the Exposition. This recipe is on the Pan-Pacific Exposition website. The book is available for free in PDF form on OpenLibrary, and available in paperback re-print for $13 or so on Amazon.

The Recipe: 
ingredients for Eggs a L'Exposition. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

Break eight eggs into a bowl and beat slightly with a fork; add half a teaspoon of salt and the same of chile powder ; then stir in a cup of fresh American dairy cheese cut into a third of an inch cubes ; melt a tablespoon of butter in an omelette pan, turn in the eggs and cook on a very slow fire, stirring thoroughly until the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked.
-- from The Pan-Pacific Cookbook: Savory Tidbits from the World's Fare, L. L. McLaren, 1915.

The Date/Year and Region:
California, 1915.

cooking the egg mixture and cheese.  Not very appetizing yet!
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
How Did You Make It: 
Apart from making a half recipe, I made this dish exactly as the recipe specified.  Electric stoves were widely available in the San Francisco Bay Area by 1915, although many people still used gas and coal.  The only substitution I made was Cheddar cheese instead of the "fresh American dairy cheese," because I had the cheddar and wasn't quite sure if modern American cheese was the same thing as what the recipe called for.  

4 eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
pinch of chile powder
½ cup Cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

Combine all ingredients except the butter, in a bowl.  Melt a pat of butter in a frying pan, pour in the egg mixture, and cook on medium-low heat, stirring thoroughly, until the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked.  Serve with toast.

Time to Complete:
15 minutes, tops.

Total Cost:
All the items were in my fridge or pantry, so I didn't have to buy anything especially for this dish.  However, if I did, it would have been $3 for a half-dozen eggs, another $3 or so for the block of Cheddar, and another $2 or so for the small canister of chili powder, for a total of $8 for 2 generous servings. 

Eggs a L'Exposition.  Yummy!
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
How Successful Was It?: 
I would say it was a success!  It tasted like scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese, which I like anyway.  The chili powder didn't add much flavor, so I would add a bit more next time.  The mixture didn't look very appetizing as it was mixed and cooked, but the cheese melted by the time the eggs were set, and kind of soaked into the egg.  The melted cheese did make the eggs greasy, though, which wasn't entirely pleasant, but not enough to keep me from eating the whole plate!  I'd definitely make this again.

How Accurate Is It?: 
Apart from using Cheddar instead of American cheese (which would have a milder flavor and maybe melt better), I was able to make this recipe pretty much as it would have been made in 1915.  I'd say at least 95% accuracy. 


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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)